Techies Need to Get Out


A few days back I mentioned the ridiculous comment John Dvorak made regarding the Xbox 360 and it’s so-called great usefulness in its ability to stream content from your PC. As I mentioned, I’ve seen this same position crop up at many a tech-oriented web site, forum or mailing list. Today I notice that Extreme Tech has written a piece called “First Looks at Windows Vista Media Center”. The piece does a nice job of describing the progress of Microsoft’s Media Center software to date but then opines, “People actually care about video, music, and TV on their PCs.” While this statement may be accurate on its own, it’s the leap that Extreme Tech and other techies make with similar views that begs correction. The Extreme Tech piece didn’t get to that comment until the early part of the second paragraph. It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they spent nearly the entire first paragraph talking about regular users lack of interest in all of this. For some reason the writer seems to have gotten the idea that all of this lack of interest is simply due to an inferior software design on the part of Microsoft. Puuuuleeeeease.

Stop it with this already. When the world is overrun with network administrators, systems analysts, tech students and other similar beings, then perhaps this concept will take off. The ability of many techies to completely fail to see what the rest of the world is like sometimes leaves me speechless—a state I’m sure you realize I rarely find myself in. The bottom line is that the entire concept of streaming media from a PC to a family room just does not work in any way that would entice typical non-techie users into finding it useful. First of all, most people do not have their PC anywhere near their family room. That means they’ll need a network to handle this. Second, most people do not leave their PC’s on 24 hours a day. I know that’ll come as a shock to a lot of the techies out there but just look around. Do your non-techie parents leave their PC on all the time? “No, but they’re different.” No, they’re not different, YOU are. To suggest that it’s not a big deal to install or run Windows Media Center, run and set up a server applet, buy, install and maintain a network, most likely a wireless one and then power on all of that plus your TV, stereo and some box that receives the data, is ludicrous. Even if you cut out the last box and suggest that the Media Center PC is in the family room to provide for all this, you’re still a bit off the mark. Few regular people would wait for a PC to boot to play a song. Few want the annoyance of the loud fans of a PC or the bulk of the box or even a keyboard and mouse to have to deal with, wireless or otherwise.

A while back I wrote a review of a new Cobra GPS navigation system called the NavMan 3000. The unit was clearly not as pretty as most others on the market but it functioned extremely well and did have features that impressed the average users. That review originally got hammered suggesting that I had no clue what people out there wanted. The critics kept saying that people wanted 3D, prettier displays and other niceties. Meanwhile the Cobra sold better than most of the units they preferred. It was a typical case of techie users being impressed with cool features that simply are not important to the vast majority of every day users. Whenever I would show non-techie passengers various systems, none of them got hung up on pretty displays. It all came down to core functionality. In this case, did the unit do a solid job of getting you from Point A to Point B? If a product fails at its base, it doesn’t matter how glitzy it is, it’s still a failure. Is a product that features 11 voices better than a product that only has one voice even if the first one fails to get you where you’re going? Techie users (and don’t get me wrong—I am one of you) have an ability to see things for what they can be. We see potential and, unfortunately, many of us look past current shortcomings and live in that world of potential. Average users see products for what they are today.

Techie-types need to step back from their own isolated experiences and take a look at the users around them and strive to truly understand what drives them. The potential for improvement for everyone is limitless should that evolution ever be realized.

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